Hunting for Productivity in the Tropics: A Data Scientist’s Tale

by Jobbatical March 16, 2016


You may remember that more than half of team Jobbatical recently spent two months living and working in Malaysia. The plan to relocate was an immediate hit with most of the team, while the more pragmatic minds among us had their doubts. Here’s the untold story of a lone data geek among a team of starry-eyed dreamers. (Spoiler: He ended up loving it.)*


Meet Rauno

Rauno is Jobbatical’s data scientist and an adventure seeker at heart. He enjoys rock climbing, diving, hiking, and being the first one at the office every morning. During his stay in Malaysia, he developed an unhealthy obsession with coconut jam. He’s not been the same since.

Rauno at Jobbatical’s temporary HQ in Malaysia. Photo by Joe Kit Yong.

Distractions, distractions

When I first got the news that most of our team would be relocating to Malaysia to work from there for a while, I was psyched — great, my first trip to Asia! New cultures, new experiences, beautiful nature, hiking spots, diving, rock climbing… Awesome. But then my mind shifted to the work part of the equation: We would actually need to be productive there.

My first thought upon realizing I’d have to actually get stuff done in a completely strange and distractingly exciting environment.

I know when I’m at my most productive: Give me a fast internet connection, a multiple-monitor setup, a comfy chair, and silence broken only by my own breathing and constant rhythmic typing. Focus. No distractions. Nothing between me and that sweet-sweet perfectly performing clean code. I was sure that was something I could only dream of, sharing a living- and workspace with eight of my coworkers. And I was right. (Granted, this was partly due to the fact that perfectly performing clean code simply doesn’t exist. But that’s not the point.)

Kuala Lumpur as photographed by the protagonist of this story.

Surprise productivity

Sometimes the best decisions are made in times of crisis. When you find yourself in an unexpected situation, there’s that critical time window when a single misstep can make your desired results disappear in a flash. That moment of crisis is what makes you (or me, at least) focus. It makes you think in straight lines between the goal and your current reality. Sure, I’m neither a soldier in a war zone nor a matador playing peekaboo with a raging bull, so it’s not exactly a life-or-death thing— but the principle still applies in more mundane situations such as this one.

Six Jobbatical team members at work

In a way — in a very comfortable and safe way, mind you — I was facing a raging bull. The metaphorical bull of uncertainty. Questions needed answering: Would I have my own little corner of isolation for listening to the air going in and out of my nostrils? How severe would the latency be between my laptop and the dev machines in Estonia? Would I be able to meet the expectations my team had of me? And it’s that uncertainty that made me go into high-alert.

My revised opinion after some consideration.

And so, quite unexpectedly for an introverted, productivity-oriented nerd like me, I suddenly realized that fruitful remote work is possible. The disruption provided by a change of environment turned on the parts of my subconscious that make me more alert, creative, and flexible. This realization uncoupled me from my comfort zone of working from the same office day-to-day. And outside of the comfort zone is where the magic happens.

Ruano and the Jobbatical team on a weekend trip to Langkawi, Malaysia

Totally worth it

This experience opened up the world for me. And yes, the first few jet-laggy days were a haze, but a terrific two months of getting stuff done followed. Yes, there are some logistical nightmares that come with this kind of trip, but all these problems are easily solvable and add to your arsenal of important life skills.

My finalized opinion.

In a nutshell: Sometimes a change of environment is just the thing to boost your productivity — even if you’re the kind of person who might expect the opposite. So don’t be afraid to take the plunge.


Inspired to embark on a perspective-changing adventure of your own? Take a look at our available jobbaticals!




*An alternative title for this post was You Won’t Believe What Happened to This Estonian Data Geek in Malaysia, but this idea was, shockingly, rejected.

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